Aug. 18, 2010 -- Drinking wine in moderate amounts may reduce the risk of decline in thinking skills in some people and may even protect against dementia, a new study shows.
Researchers in Norway studied the drinking habits of 5,033 men and women over a seven-year period, including some teetotalers.
And they report that wine drinkers scored better than teetotalers on a range of tests of cognitive function, or thinking skills.
Not drinking alcohol was linked in women, but not in men, with significantly lower scores on tests of reasoning and thinking ability.
And women who reported drinking wine at least four times over a two-week period were at reduced risk of scoring poorly on the tests, compared with women who had less than one drink during the period.
In addition, women who didn't drink any alcohol scored lowest on the tests. The average age of people in the study was 58, and none had suffered a stroke.
The researchers say that drinking wine, "but not beer and spirits, was positively associated with cognitive function in women, whereas both beer and wine consumption was associated with better cognitive test scores in men."
They also say that "light-to-moderate wine consumption in women and light-to-moderate wine and beer consumption in men were associated with better scores on cognitive tests, compared with those with a low intake of alcohol."
The study is published in the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavica.
"I don't believe that wine can make you smarter," study researcher Kjell Arne Arntzen, MD, of the University of Tromso in Norway, tells WebMD in an email. "Why female abstainers had lower scores compared to those with a very low wine consumption may be explained by other lifestyle related habits among abstainers, but could also be caused by a protective effect of wine on cognitive decline."
The positive association between moderate wine drinking and reduction in cognitive decline may be the result of other factors that are linked to mental decline, such as lower socioeconomic status, age, educational levels, and other lifestyle and health factors, including diabetes, smoking, depression, and hypertension, according to the researchers.
The researchers write that most of the 68 studies involving 145,308 men and women in the past three decades have shown better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia in people who reported light to moderate alcohol drinking.
It is possible, the researchers say, the positive effects of drinking wine could be due to the fact that it contains antioxidants and other micro-elements.
Alcohol also may be protective because it reduces inflammation of artery walls, improving blood flow, the researchers say. But whatever the reason, it appears clear that light-to-moderate wine drinking is associated with higher scores on cognitive tests.